Irregular Warfare Podcast

Modern War Institute at West Point

The Irregular Warfare Podcast explores an important component of war throughout history. Small wars, drone strikes, special operations forces, counterterrorism, proxies—this podcast covers the full range of topics related to irregular war and features in-depth conversations with guests from the military, academia, and the policy community. The podcast is a collaboration between the Modern War Institute at West Point and Princeton's Empirical Studies of Conflict Project.

All Episodes

What is the intersection between cyber and irregular warfare? Should the United States consider cyberspace a typical or exquisite domain? How did the counterterrorism fight serve as a proving ground for the application of these emerging capabilities? This episode examines the character of cyber warfare—both in its relationship to irregular warfare and in its applicability to broader national security approaches—and features a conversation with Dr. Jacquelyn Schneider and Admiral Mike Rogers. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Nov 19

53 min 59 sec

Will the role and capabilities required of special operations forces change in a geopolitical context characterized by great power competition? How will SOF balance enduring counterterrorism missions with new requirements to deter great power rivals? This episode examines those questions and more and features a discussion with General Richard Clarke, commander of US Special Operations Command, and Linda Robinson, a leading researcher on special operations forces and author of two books on the subject. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Nov 5

56 min 37 sec

What lessons should the United States and its allies take from twenty years of irregular warfare since 9/11? What will the future of irregular warfare look like? Episode 38 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast is a recording of the keynote policy panel, featuring prominent scholars and practitioners, from the inaugural Irregular Warfare Initiative conference held on September 10, 2021. The panelists address these questions and discuss the overarching theme of the changing character of irregular warfare. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Oct 22

1 hr 12 min

Foreign fighters play an influential role in Islamic extremist groups. They tend to be more violent, more committed, and more resistant to reconciliation than their indigenous counterparts. Perhaps most significantly, they act as vectors of extremism, moving between zones of conflict, and sometimes returning to their countries of origin to instigate acts of terrorism. Our guests on this episode, Jasmine El-Gamal and Nate Rosenblatt, have researched the problem extensively for almost two decades. They predict that the next wave of extremism fueled by this phenomenon is gathering momentum even now and could pose an even greater threat to global security than its predecessors. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Oct 18

50 min 55 sec

When information can travel globally at the tap of a finger, irregular warfare professionals must contend with an ever-changing environment. How does strategic messaging tie into operations on the battlefield? How can we build a more information-savvy force? And how can information act as both weapon and warfighting space? Raphael Cohen and Brent Colburn join this episode to discuss these vital questions and more. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Sep 24

46 min 55 sec

What lessons should the United States military take from twenty years of war in Afghanistan? This episode focuses on US efforts in the Pech valley, where the United States waged an enduring counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaign over many years. Our guests, Wesley Morgan and retired Colonel Bill Ostlund, argue that the Pech represents a microcosm of the broader US war effort in Afghanistan, and that the collapse of the Afghan government following the withdrawal of US forces from the country in August 2021 was foreseeable by looking at what happened in the valley after US forces withdrew years earlier. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Sep 13

52 min 45 sec

How does China operate in the space between war and peace to gain strategic advantage in Asia and globally? What do these gray zone activities look like, and how do they facilitate China’s influence in the region? What are the consequences of inconsistent US policy and posture in the Pacific in countering China’s rise? This episode features a conversation with Ambassador David Shear and Dr. Zack Cooper, who explore what China's efforts in the gray zone mean for the United States. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Aug 27

55 min 42 sec

The United States and other nations have spent billions of dollars and invested untold effort, not to mention lives, in a global campaign against Islamist terrorism—and yet the threat landscape is arguably worse now than it was on 9/11. Despite the importance for national security of understanding how to wage irregular warfare effectively, something in the American way of war, the fundamental culture of the US military, prevents us from doing so. William Wechsler and retired Colonel Liam Collins join this episode to discuss the question of what needs to be done to reverse this trend and thus ensure that the United States can recover from the mistakes of the past, restore its credibility, and return to its place of prominence on the global stage.

Aug 23

54 min 41 sec

The US military and its allies are faced with the challenges of shifting focus toward great power competition while still maintaining the ability to counter threats on the fringes. Where does irregular warfare fit in this new strategic landscape? This episode explores the role of land forces within great power competition. Chief of Staff of the Army General James C. McConville and Dr. Peter Roberts of the Royal United Services Institute discuss the implications for land forces within this strategic shift from counterterrorism to a national security strategy oriented on great power competition, including the role of irregular warfare and shaping the environment as ways to deter near-peer competitors. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Jul 30

41 min 53 sec

US Army Special Forces units continued to quietly operate in Afghanistan when conventional troops withdrew around 2015. These soldiers have worked closely with Afghan commandos and government partners to hold the hard-won and fragile stability. What happens when they leave the country this summer? This episode examines that question and features two guests with experiences and perspectives that uniquely equip them to do so. Jessica Donati covers foreign affairs and national security for the Wall Street Journal, having served as the paper's bureau chief while reporting from Afghanistan between 2013 and 2017. Colonel Brad Moses is a US Army Special Forces officer who most recently served as the deputy chief of staff for strategy and policy, United States Forces Afghanistan and Operation Resolute Support. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Jul 16

36 min 31 sec

Special operations forces have been a favorite national security tool during the United States' post-9/11 wars. However, the release of the 2017 National Security Strategy pivoted the United States’ strategic focus from terrorism to near-peer competitors China and Russia. What will be the role of special operations forces (SOF) in this era of great power competition? Where is SOF falling short in the shift to meet this new focus area? Former Under Secretary of Defense for policy Michèle Flournoy and retired Admiral Eric T. Olson join this episode to discuss.

Jul 2

47 min 3 sec

A new US administration is eager to reengage with both allies and competitors, reasserting the role of global leader that the United States has claimed since World War II. At the same time, former partners wary of indications of US withdrawal from the global stage no longer look to the United States for leadership and current adversaries emboldened by apparent US apathy toward their breaching of international norms are no longer cowed into restraint. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael K. Nagata and Dr. Anthony Cordesman join this episode to discuss how these conditions developed and what can be done to reverse the apparent decline. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Jun 18

42 min 15 sec

How did the United States leverage local partners in the fight against the Islamic State? What were the unique dynamics of partnering with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, particularly the Women’s Protection Units? What can this case teach us about warfare, will, and relationships? Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, author of the New York Times best-selling book The Daughters of Kobani, and retired General Joseph Votel, former commander of US Central Command, join this episode to discuss these questions and more.

Jun 4

39 min 35 sec

What would a conflict with China look like? How will irregular warfare fit into a conflict before and during large-scale combat operations? Retired Admiral James Stavridis and Elliot Ackerman explore the theme of escalation to large-scale conflict in their New York Times best seller 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, and they join this episode to discuss those questions and more. 

May 24

44 min 11 sec

In this episode, we discuss US counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq's Anbar province, Iraq—from the 2006 surge through the rise of the Islamic State in 2013–2014—with two guests who both experienced the US COIN fight firsthand. Retired General Robert Neller served as the commandant as the Marine Corps and in 2005–2007, he was the deputy commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) in Anbar. Dr. Carter Malkasian is a historian who served as an advisor to US military leadership in Iraq and is the author of Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State.

May 7

53 min 43 sec

How can the military and civilians work together to prevent or manage conflict? Two seminal policy initiatives, the Stabilization Assistance Review and the Global Fragility Act, provide important answers by emphasizing an alignment of defense, development, and diplomatic efforts and delineating clear roles for respective actors in addressing violence and instability. This episode examines how they have fundamentally reshaped the way the US government conceives and responds to conflict around the world based on lessons learned from places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Apr 23

40 min 49 sec

Aviation has played an important role in irregular warfare, from its use by the British against rebellious tribesmen in Iraq and Transjordan in the interwar period to the era of the unblinking eye and precision strike in Afghanistan. Our guests in this episode—retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas Trask and Dr. James Kiras—discuss this evolution in the use of airpower to support ground forces. As they explain, rapid technological advances have helped perfect the employment of airpower, and yet the role of aviation in war has not significantly changed to this point. However, that with the transition to more distributed operations across the globe, it will no longer be possible to provide the level of responsive support to which the US military has become accustomed. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Apr 10

50 min 37 sec

Irregular warfare practitioners have played a major role in just about every war over the past 250 years. In this episode, Dr. John Arquilla and Maj. Gen. John Brennan explain how the masters of irregular warfare have been able to achieve strategic effects even while losing tactical-level engagements—and offer recommendations for how to prepare and employ irregular warfare capabilities to address the major threats to US national security in the future. SPECIAL NOTE: We recently announced the launch of a new project—the Irregular Warfare Initiative. Along with the podcast episodes we release every two weeks, we are now publishing regular written content—commentary and analysis on a range of topics related to irregular warfare. If you would like to submit an article for consideration, please email kyle.atwell@irregularwarfare.org.  Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Mar 26

46 min 32 sec

As policymakers’ focus shifts from counterterrorism to great power competition, the implications for special operations forces are unclear. In this episode, our guests—Senator Joni Ernst and Owen West, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict—argue that SOF is uniquely suited to address irregular warfare challenges in the era of great power competition. However, limited understanding of these threats among policymakers in Washington, budget constraints, and outdated authorities hinder SOF’s ability to evolve. According to our guests, civilian leadership and oversight can help overcome these challenges. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Mar 12

37 min 10 sec

What drives illicit violence by substate groups such as terrorists, insurgents, and criminals—and how can states counter these threats? Our guests in this episode, Juan Zarate and Gary Shiffman, argue that social science provides tools to understand why illicit violence occurs. And by understanding why it occurs, states can develop targeted sanctions and military strategies that disassemble and disrupt violent nonstate groups. This approach has implications for how policymakers and practitioners can counter violent actors from the strategic to the tactical level. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Feb 26

49 min 33 sec

Australia is undergoing the most fundamental strategic realignment since the Second World War, toward a focus on threats closer to home without reliance on the United States. In that context, what role does irregular warfare play in Australian national security strategy? What lessons does the Australian experience hold for the United States as they both transition from the post-9/11 wars to great power competition? David Kilcullen and Andy Maher join this episode to discuss. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Feb 12

48 min 30 sec

In 2016, the Colombian government and FARC rebels signed a peace deal, ending over five decades of guerrilla war. What lessons can be gleaned from the case for the irregular warfare community? Former US Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker and former assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict Caryn Hollis argue that effective US interagency coordination, bipartisan congressional support, and a focus on building institutions and stabilizing the security situation were key ingredients to success in Colombia’s efforts against the insurgency. But more important than anything was that the Colombian government and population owned the commitment to resolve the conflict. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Jan 29

40 min 49 sec

Information in its many forms has become a significant component of national power—the primary medium of competition between the United States and its adversaries. Our guests in this episode tackle that subject. Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds is the US Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for information and Dr. Thomas Rid is a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’ School of Advanced International Studies. Both are experts in their respective fields, each looking at this competition from opposing perspectives—one as a practitioner focused on the employment of military information power toward US national security goals, the other as a political scientist and historian who has investigated the strategic use of disinformation against the United States. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Jan 16

41 min 9 sec

What role do information and intelligence play in counterinsurgency? How can artificial intelligence assist in tracking and identifying insurgent or terrorist activity? What are some of the opportunities and challenges of using AI in irregular warfare contexts? Retired Gen. Stan McChrystal and Dr. Anshu Roy tackle those questions and more in this episode. They argue that AI allows counterinsurgent and counterterrorist forces to aggregate and process massive amounts of data that illuminates and even predicts insurgent activity. However, there are challenges that come with this groundbreaking opportunity. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Jan 1

51 min 9 sec

Where does irregular warfare fit within the framework of national security policy? Does the recently released Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy attenuate focus, or relegate irregular warfare to a policy afterthought? How can irregular warfare concepts become enduring elements of a comprehensive effort toward competition and conflict with US adversaries? Those questions are at the center of this conversation with two guests: Retired Col. David Maxwell, a thirty-year US Army veteran and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Mr. Deak Roh, the acting principal director in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism.

Dec 2020

45 min 57 sec

What role do private military companies such as Russia’s Wagner Group play on the modern battlefield? How should US policymakers and US and allied troops in conflict zones manage threats from armed groups when Russia denies their existence? Is war by private armies a rising trend in modern conflict? The guests featured in this episode explore those questions and more.

Dec 2020

51 min 23 sec

When, why, and under what circumstances does security force assistance work? This episode focuses on best practices of security force assistance, along with challenges, realistic expectations, and the role it will play for the United States in an era of great power competition with guests Dr. Mara Karlin, author of the book Building Militaries and Fragile States: Challenges for the United States, and Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson, commanding general of the US Army's Security Force Assistance Command. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Nov 2020

54 min 25 sec

This episode features a conversation with retired Gen. David Petraeus. He served over thirty-seven years in the US military, including as commander of coalition forces during the surge in Iraq, commander of US Central Command, and commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan. He outlines lessons he argues the United States should have learned from two decades of fighting Islamist extremists, explains how US dominance in the particular areas allows it to support partners against violent extremist organizations using small and sustainable footprints, and provides his thoughts on the recently released Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy and how irregular warfare is situated within the context of rising great power rivalry. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0   General David Petraeus served over 37 years in the U.S. military to include as commander of coalition forces during the surge in Iraq, commander of U.S. Central Command, and commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan. Following his service in the military, Gen. Petraeus served as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a 1974 graduate of West Point and received his Ph.D. in international relations from the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. General Petraeus currently is a Partner at KKR, a global investment firm, and Chairman of the KKR Global Institute. 

Nov 2020

41 min 27 sec

What are unconventional warfare and foreign subversion? Will they be important in an era of great power competition? What are some of the second- and third-order effects when states use subversion to undermine their rivals? Retired Lt. Gen. Ken Tovo and Dr. Melissa Lee join the Irregular Warfare Podcast to discuss these topics and more. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Oct 2020

51 min 31 sec

This episode is a deep dive into insurgency and counterinsurgency in the Philippines, presented through the perspectives of two guests with many years of experience in Philippine counterinsurgency efforts. Dr. Joe Felter and retired Col. Dennis Eclarin discuss the history and evolution of insurgency and counterinsurgency in the Philippines, with a focus on US support to building effective counterinsurgency forces in both the pre- and post- 9/11 eras. Based on shared operational perspectives and collaboration on research—specifically an extensive micro-conflict database—they describe what makes COIN forces effective. They then discuss the implications of their lessons learned for counterinsurgency and security efforts around the world.

Oct 2020

52 min 46 sec

What is the human domain of warfare, and will it be more or less relevant in great power competition? Who should own it? What does it take to change how the Department of Defense thinks about war? In this episode, Nick Lopez and Kyle Atwell dig into these questions and more with retired Brig. Gen. Kim Field and Dr. Sue Bryant. The conversation goes beyond defining the human domain of warfare, as the guests reveal how policy changes are considered within the Defense Department bureaucracy based on their experiences. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Sep 2020

44 min 54 sec

Are the US Marines better at counterinsurgency than the US Army? How about the British Army? If so, why? If not then what else might explain success and failure in different counterinsurgency campaigns over time? In this episode, Kyle Atwell and Nick Lopez discuss these questions with Dr. Colin Jackson and Dr. Austin Long.  Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Sep 2020

47 min 54 sec

In Episode 8 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, hosts Nick Lopez and Shawna Sinnott speak to best-selling authors August Cole and P.W. Singer to discuss how they see the future of irregular warfare and implications for policymakers, practitioners, and academics. The guests have conducted extensive research on how technology will drastically affect society, the economy, and all things defense-related. They use this research to tell action-packed stories, to include the best seller Ghost Fleet: a Novel of the Next World War and their recently released Burn In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by Ketsa Outro music: "Launch" by Ketsa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Aug 2020

51 min 48 sec

In this episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, Shawna Sinnott and Kyle Atwell discuss the history and context of proxy and partner warfare in the Middle East with Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Dr. Eli Berman. This is the second of a two-part discussion on fighting irregular warfare through proxy forces. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by KetsaOutro music: "Launch" by KetsaCC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Aug 2020

42 min 21 sec

In this episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, Kyle Atwell and Shawna Sinnott discuss proxy and partner warfare in Africa with retired Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks and Dr. Eli Berman. Eli and Mark discuss the objectives of proxy and partner warfare, the tools available to influence local agents, and whether the United States should increase or decrease its military and diplomatic footprint across Africa in an era of renewed great-power competition. The episode is the first in a two-part series on proxies and irregular warfare. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by KetsaOutro music: "Launch" by KetsaCC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Jul 2020

54 min 36 sec

In this episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, Kyle Atwell and Nick Lopez discuss the inner workings of nonstate armed groups in Syria and Iraq with Dr. Vera Mironova of Harvard University and Dr. Daniel Milton of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. The conversation is based on analysis of ISIS documents captured on the battlefield and hundreds of interviews with civilians and fighters on the front lines. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by KetsaOutro music: "Launch" by KetsaCC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Jul 2020

37 min 21 sec

What are the mechanics and politics that determine how the US government approaches irregular conflicts? That's the question at the center of this episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast. Hosts Nick Lopez and Kyler Atwell are joined by Mark Mitchell, former acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and Pete Villano, who spent a decade as a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee.

Jul 2020

41 min 1 sec

This episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast features a conversation with two guests about an important question: Does building partner military capacity work? Dr. Stephen Biddle is a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and served as an advisor to Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Matt Cancian is a doctoral candidate in political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a former Marine officer who has researched Western efforts to build partner capacity among the Kurdish Pershmerga during the fight against ISIS. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by KetsaOutro music: "Launch" by KetsaCC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Jun 2020

41 min 24 sec

In the second episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, a collaboration between the Modern War Institute and Princeton University’s Empirical Studies of Conflict Project, hosts Nick Lopez and Shawna Sinnott speak to Dr. Jenna Jordan and Dr. Asfandyar Mir. They discuss counterterrorism, the use of drones, and whether targeting terrorist groups' leaders is an effective strategy. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by KetsaOutro music: "Launch" by KetsaCC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Jun 2020

39 min 47 sec

The Irregular Warfare Podcast is a new collaboration between the Modern War Institute at West Point and Princeton University's Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. In this inaugural episode, hosts Kyle Atwell and Nick Lopez talk to Jake Shapiro, co-director of ESOC and Col. Pat Howell, director of MWI. The conversation tackles important questions about what are often called "small wars," including material covered in Jake's book, Small Wars, Big Data. New episodes of the Irregular Warfare Podcast will be released every two weeks. Intro music: "Unsilenced" by KetsaOutro music: "Launch" by KetsaCC BY-NC-ND 4.0

May 2020

32 min 13 sec